Stratford Town Council members passed a budget Tuesday that will apparently restore freshman high school sports, ensure that the is plenty busy on Sundays, and clean up the town's sidewalks and foreclosed properties.
By a 6-to-4 vote, Council members approved an amended operating budget for fiscal year 2013 totaling $190,861,641.
The total is about $270,000 less than , and about $2.3 million more than the budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.
The mill rate, also approved by the same 6-to-4 vote, will increase the average annual tax bill by about $58.
Council members were able to trim the mayor's budget due in large part to $222,000 in realized savings for medical insurance. (Scroll down for a complete chart of last-minute department cuts and increases.)
Councilman Jason Santi (D-4) announced the amended items, which included $40,000 more for the Board of Education budget. Those monies will be used to restore freshman sports, according to Santi.
Fellow party member Stephanie Philips (D-2) said it's not the Council's place to say how the school board should or will spend its part of the budget, which came to $93,992,529. Furthermore, she added, freshman sports "is not an item that the Board of Education requested."
Philips voted down the amended budget along with Republicans Craig Budnick, Matt Catalano and Chris Barnaby. Santi and the other five Republicans on the Council voted yea, which was enough to pass the ordinance.
"I overall disagree with the priorities put in place with this budget," said Philips. She said instead of adding the $40,000 to schools, the money should go toward the animal shelter and community services, both of which requested a $17,000 increase to the funding proposed by Mayor Harkins.
"I support more money for the dog pound," Santi said. "But there's not enough votes to pass it."
At a public hearing on the budget in April, members of the Stratford Animal Rescue Society to add $17,600 to what the mayor had penciled in for Stratford Animal Control. They said without the increase, which is mainly for part-time salaries, the new animal shelter on Beacon Point Road is "set up to fail."
Paul Hoydick (R-10) said bringing back freshman sports at and high schools is an achievement that will impact some 300-plus students in town.
At the same hearing where animal volunteers rallied for animal control, several residents advocated for put forth by the mayor. The Council actually ended up adding $2,500 to the library's budget, which apparently will go toward paying workers to come in on Sunday.
Other highlights/talking points:
- Quote from Santi: "One of the main reasons I'm voting [yes] is because it saves Franklin School." Before the mayor proposed his budget, there was long talk about .
- Quote from James Connor (R-8) directed toward Philips (hear clip in attached video): "If you would have come to us and said, 'I could support an x, y, z,' [but] you didn't, you left it all up to us. That's all I have to say." Connor called Philips' actions “disingenuous" and said this is the third year the councilwoman has voted against the budget.
- Quote from Philips on police department: "We are still operating at minimum capacity .. in January we'll look at each other and say it's the union's fault .. we should hire one or two more officers so we can control OT."
- Employee benefits: The Council's amended budget cut $50,000 from an employee benefits trust. The account is in part a way to measure the town's credit-rating. The school board's portion of the budget includes .
- The largest altered increase on the town side of the budget was a $25,000 boost to "sidewalk maintenance."
- The $15,000 allocated to the account below titled Blight (Other Contingency) will go toward cleaning up foreclosed properties, according to Santi.
Council's Increase /Decrease